12.01.09

On The Cartagena Landmine Ban Treaty Review Conference

MR. LEAHY. Madam President, I want to speak briefly on a subject that many Members of Congress - Democrats and Republicans - have had an abiding interest in over the years.

Throughout this week, delegates from countries around the world will gather in Cartagena, Colombia, to participate in the Second Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

The Cartagena review conference would have been the perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to announce its intention to join the 156 other nations that are parties to the treaty, including our coalition allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, every member of NATO and every country in our hemisphere, except Cuba, is a party to the treaty. The United States is one of only 37 countries that have not joined, along with Russia and China.

By announcing our intention to join the treaty in Cartagena, this administration would have signaled to the rest of the world that the United States is finally showing the leadership that has been wanting on these indiscriminate weapons that maim and kill thousands of innocent people every year.

The U.S. military is the most powerful in the world. Yet we have seen how civilian casualties in Afghanistan have become one of the most urgent and pressing concerns of our military commanders, where bombs that missed their targets and other mistakes have turned the populace against us.

Despite this, one of the arguments the Pentagon makes for resisting calls to join the Mine Ban Treaty is to preserve its option to use landmines in Afghanistan, even though we have not used these indiscriminate weapons since 1991.

Since the Pentagon has never voluntarily given up any weapon, including poison gas, which President Woodrow Wilson renounced in 1925, perhaps this is to be expected.

But can anyone imagine the Unites States using landmines in Afghanistan, a country where more civilians have been killed or horribly injured from mines than any other in history?

A country which, like our coalition partners, is itself a party to the treaty?

A country where if we used mines and civilians were killed or injured the public outcry in Afghanistan and around the world would be deafening?

Can anyone imagine this President, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize which only a few years ago was awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, having to publicly defend such a decision?

I wonder if anyone at the Pentagon has thought of the military and political implications of that.

Last Tuesday, the State Department spokesman announced that the administration had completed a review on its landmine policy and had decided to continue supporting the Bush administration's policy, which was, in key aspects, a retreat from the policy of President Clinton.

This was a surprise to me and others, as I had encouraged the administration to conduct such a review and then heard nothing for months. In fact, I had spoken personally with President Obama about it just a few weeks before.

I did not hesitate to express my disappointment, as did many others.Thereafter the State Department corrected itself, and announced that a "comprehensive review" is continuing and reaffirmed its earlier decision to send a team of observers to the Cartagena review conference this week.

It is unfortunate that the State Department spokesman misspoke. However, the administration's approach to this issue until this past weekend had been cursory, half-hearted, and deeply disappointing to those of us who expected a serious, thorough reexamination of this issue.

One hopes that an administration that portrays itself as a global leader on issues of humanitarian law and arms control recognizes this is an opportunity.

A serious review should begin by examining the extensive history of the negotiations that led to the treaty, and the technical issues that were debated and addressed.

It should involve consulting our allies, like Great Britain and Canada, whose militaries have operated in accordance with the treaty's obligations for a decade, including with our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, to determine what their experience has been.

It should involve consulting with the Pentagon, of course, but also with retired senior U.S. military officers and diplomats, many of whom have expressed support for the treaty.

It should involve consulting with Members of Congress, and with the humanitarian and arms control communities who have extensive expertise on all aspects of the treaty and its implementation.

Unfortunately, none of these obvious steps was taken. Instead, an opaque process involving limited consultations with the Pentagon simply resulted in a regurgitation of the Bush administration's talking points.

That is not what we expected of this administration, and I welcome the announcement that a comprehensive review will be carried out.

The United States has not exported anti-personnel mines since 1992.

We have not produced anti-personnel mines since 1997.

And the United States has not used anti-personnel mines since 1991 - when many of them malfunctioned.

In effect, we have been in de facto compliance with the treaty for 18 years, with the exception of not yet destroying our stockpile of mines.

And in the interim we have invested millions of dollars to develop alternatives to indiscriminate landmines, to replace them with munitions that include man-in-the-loop technology, so they are not victim-activated.

Indiscriminate landmines, whether persistent mines or those that are designed to self-destruct or deactivate, are nothing more than booby traps. They cannot distinguish between an enemy combatant, a U.S. soldier, a young child, or a woman out collecting firewood. They do not belong in the arsenal of any modern military.

I have supported President Obama and I look forward to supporting him on many issues in the future. I believe this can be one of those issues.

I am confident that after a proper review is conducted, and the President considers the equities, he will conclude, as our allies have, that the humanitarian benefits of banning anti-personnel landmines far exceed their limited military utility. Ultimately, this is a decision President Obama will need to make himself, as President Wilson did almost a century ago.

I want to commend the Government of Colombia, a country where landmines have taken and continue to take a terrible toll on civilians, for hosting the review conference. Colombia joined the treaty years ago.

I also appreciate that the State Department has sent a team of observers to Cartagena. I hope they use this opportunity not only to highlight the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. has provided for humanitarian demining and assistance for mine victims over the years, but also to learn from the delegations of countries that are parties to the treaty.

I want to pay tribute to the leadership of Canada, and my friend Lloyd Axworthy, who as Foreign Minister showed the extraordinary vision and leadership that culminated in the Mine Ban Treaty, and to the other nations that have joined since then.

The treaty has already exceeded the expectations of even its strongest advocates. The number of mine casualties has decreased significantly. The number of countries producing and exporting mines has plummeted.

And at the same time, none of the arguments of the treaty's naysayers have come to pass.

The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these indiscriminate weapons any more than our allies who have abandoned them.

We have not used landmines for many years. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines.

It is time for the United States to join the right side of history.

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